Out of the shadows and into the pale golden glow of dozens of candles, the Grim Reaper, in various guises, takes his (or her) star turn in Theatre of Death, a collection of seven short plays on a single theme, produced and performed by Mark-Brian Sonna’s MBS Productions in the little Stone Cottage Theatre in Addison . It’s good Halloween fare that creates, in just under two hours, the sinister atmosphere of stepping down into a chilly catacomb for some whispered conversations with restless spirits.
The cast of seven glides into the nearly dark room under swaths of black lace, chanting “muerte, muerte,” which they’ll repeat between each short drama, most lasting just 10 to 15 minutes. The first play, Romance of Count Alarcos, is adapted from a medieval Spanish story about a demanding princess (Laura L. Watson) who commands the married man she loves (Ben Scheer) to murder his wife (Emmalyn Miron). He follows orders, but his dying wife puts a curse on her husband, the princess and the king. Turns out wifey has skills at the curse thing. They all turn toes up.
Next is The Mask, a 16th century tale by early Spanish playwright Lope de Rueda, newly translated for this production. It’s a dark comedy, with a servant (Sonna) bringing home what he thinks is a mask but is actually the facial remains of a murder victim. Who’s this play’s Buffalo Bill? Not tellin’.
The Haunt, written and acted by Sonna, mixes domestic discord with a Sixth Sense twist as a husband and wife (Jennifer Duggins) stay up late to argue about infidelity. But are both dead? Or both alive?
To the sound of a ticking clock, tension builds in 13 Minutes by Alejandro de la Costa. Four people (Watson, Duggins, Scheer, Joel Frapart) awake in a strange room and see a note that says one of them must die within 13 minutes or all of them will. The first round of voting is a four-way tie, so it’s up to one to decide who gets the ax (or maybe the rope).
After intermission come three more bits of teatro breve, starting with The Fool by Juan Matos Fragoso, a complicated story of con artists and their victims. The best script of the night is Thomas Bertino’s mini-thriller A Date with Mick, which finds two gay men (Frapart and Fernando Hernandez) engaged in a cunning cat-and-mouse game of flirting, domination and mild torture. “I’ll try anything once,” says the fit-to-be-tied-up accountant (Hernandez). “Twice if I like it.” As the first date devolves into a hostage situation, we find out that these two have a past, but only one of them knows it.
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The short finale serves to bookend the evening with Romance of the Departed Husband, a new translation of a 700-year-old Spanish piece. Emmalyn Miron delivers an impassioned monologue about a maid, her mistress and a missing husband.
Sonna and his cast, directed by Dylan Peck, maintain the flat, unhurried pace of classic medieval morality plays. A couple of the actors get too shout-y in the tight confines of the Stone Cottage, but the rest of the ensemble is fine. Cloaking them in the dim light from all those candles (battery-powered, no live flames allowed) creates an appropriately spooky mood. Costumes by Larry E. Groseclose suggest shabby-chic period elegance in tones of black and white in the ladies’ sweeping lace dresses and men’s brocade vests, with splashes of red here and there in costumes and props.
Red means death in these stories. As in life, it’s always waiting in the wings.
Theatre of Death continues through November 8 at the Stone Cottage Theatre, 15650 Addison Road (in front of WaterTower Theatre), Addison. Tickets $20-$21 at the door or 214-477-4942. (Adult language and situations.)